Norfolk Southern swears off ‘bait trucks’ after neighborhood outcry
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Norfolk Southern Railroad apologized Friday for an Englewood sting operation involving a truck full of shoes — an effort that led to three arrests but also a viral video, anger from residents and the dropping of most charges.
The railroad’s private police force organized the sting, which involved parked trucks filled with shoes; the hope was to tempt people to steal the merchandise. Though the trucks appeared to be unguarded, they were kept under surveillance.
Chicago Police officers worked with the railroad police to arrest three people accused of taking merchandise from the trucks, including a deaf man who told police — using sign language — that he entered the truck looking for food.
The operation “was in direct response to ongoing cargo theft from parked and locked containers and trailers in that area,” Norfolk Southern official Herbert Smith wrote in a letter. “It must be noted that these break-ins included theft of guns and ammunition that found their way into the local community.”
Prosecutors on Thursday dropped burglary charges against two of the men; charges against the third man were dropped Friday.
Police reports indicate the arrests were part of a joint operation with Norfolk Southern officers, dubbed “Operation Trailer Trap.”
Another video of the operation, take by self-described “crime chaser” Martin G. Johnson, shows a police car stopping a truck and leading the truck’s driver away as if he were under arrest — and appearing to leave the truck unguarded.
A CPD spokesman said the department did not help plan the sting operation. Police reports included with court filings listed more than a dozen CPD and Norfolk Southern officers involved in the arrests, which took place the same weekend the CPD officials had placed hundreds of additional officers on patrol near the Lollapalooza music festival in Grant Park.
Video of an activist confronting Norfolk Southern police and Chicago Police alongside the “bait truck” sent viral, and prompted criticism from residents, Chicago politicians and the American Civil Liberties Union.
“The State’s Attorney’s Office reviewed these cases and dropped charges because it was in the interest of justice,” said Robert Foley, a spokesman for State’s Attorney Kim Foxx. Foley did not respond to questions about whether the office would bring charges against other people arrested in similar sting operations in the future. Prosecutors are not aware of other arrests tied to the bait truck.
One of those arrested was Floyd Allen, 59. He was nabbed Friday, Aug. 3 after officers saw him enter the truck and step back outside holding a brown box. However, though burglary charges against him were dropped, Allen still faces two counts of simple battery; he’s accused of refusing to drop a collapsable knife he was holding as officers approached him. Railroad agents used an “emergency takedown” to apprehend Allen, according to the report.
“Norfolk Southern recognizes that, despite the need to safeguard freight in the area, this operation eroded trust between law enforcement and the community. We sincerely regret that our actions caused further unease, and we don’t plan to use this method in the future,” Smith wrote in his letter.
He also said residents “deserved more context” about why the bait trucks were deployed.
“We welcome a dialogue with the community, and we already have reached out to local officials to discuss how best to prevent freight theft, improve community relations, and rebuild mutual trust.”
CPD Supt. Eddie Johnson said at a press conference Thursday that the department would re-examine its own use of bait cars.
“I’ve had a lot of people say to me: ‘Superintendent, [the arrestees] shouldn’t have been out there doing what they were doing,'” Johnson said. “We’ve been working hard to repair the relationships, so we’ll take a hard look at it to see if it can be done better.”